Blaming that faceless group serves no good purpose It's an unusual theme to sound during the holiday season - "Beware of They" - but I believe this is the perfect time to discuss it.
What I'm talking about deals not just with fleet managers, but truck drivers and dock workers, corporate executives, government bureaucrats and clerks. It's about our all-too-human tendency to blame all our problems on some nefarious "they" out there who just don't understand the fleet business or the difficulties in running it.
The author of this theory is a little unusual, too. He's Michael Crichton, the writer behind the book (and later movie) "Jurassic Park." About 12 years ago, he wrote a brief autobiography of sorts called "Travels," in which he talked about the "they" problem. I think more than a few fleet managers can sympathize with Crichton's concerns.
"One night I was at a dinner party, and as I listened, I noticed a tendency to talk about how they don't protect the environment, how they don't run the government responsibly, how they don't build quality products, how they never report the news accurately," he writes. "The basic message was that they were ruining the world and there was nothing we could do about it."
Crichton said when he asked who the "they" were, all he got were blank stares. That no one could actually define "they" bothered him.
"I don't think anything is served by imagining a world of faceless villains," Crichton said. "There isn't any they. There are only people like us."
He continued: "If a corporation is polluting and the CEO sounds uninformed on TV, the chances are he's some guy who's in the middle of a divorce ... and he's tired and pressured, this pollution issue is just one of many problems, and the government changes the regulations so often no one can be sure whether he's breaking the law or not, and his aides aren't as smart as he'd like them to be, and maybe they even lie to him. This CEO doesn't want to appear like a jerk on TV. He's not happy he came off that way. But it happens, because he's just a guy trying to do his best and his best isn't always so hot. Who's different?"
Crichton included himself as well. "I don't know about you, but I think I'm pretty smart and I don't always run my life so well. I make mistakes and screw up. I do things I regret. I say things I wish I hadn't said. A lot of the people you see interviewed on TV have impossible jobs. It's only a question of how badly they'll do them. But I don't see any grand conspiracy out there. I think people are doing the best they can."
That's why blaming things on some undefined "they" can have unintended consequences, Crichton said.
"What's really wrong with making them the problem is that you abdicate your own responsibility. Once you say some mysterious they are in charge, then you're able to sit back comfortably and complain about how they are doing it. But maybe they need help. Maybe they need your ideas and support and your letters and your active participation. Because you are not powerless - you are a participant in this world."
Crichton's warning about the perils of "they" has, I think, a lot of meaning to everyone involved with fleets. Sometimes we fail to remember there's a human face behind regulations, fuel price increases, traffic congestion, accidents and other challenges out there on the road.
Maybe if we take a moment to remember that there's someone like us on the other side, we'll find it a little easier to surmount these challenges. It's something to think about.